The Colombian climber left the Kazakhstani team, where he turned professional in 2015, to join Movistar in 2021 but his spell at the Spanish squad lasted just ninth months and ended in acrimony following his sudden exit from the Vuelta a España.
López’s Movistar contract was terminated from October 1 and a return to Astana for 2022 was quickly struck up, thanks to the return to power of his old confidant Alexandre Vinokourov and the exit of Canadian sponsor PremierTech.
López is currently in Spain on a first pre-season training camp, where, although not technically employed yet by the team, he spoke to the media wearing a 2021-issue Astana-Premier Tech tracksuit.
“It's like coming back home,” López said. “I’m seeing the same directors as before, riders I’ve ridden with before, like Vincenzo [Nibali] and [Alexey] Lutsenko. I’m practically re-taking the path I was on a year previously.
“But I can see that there’s a big change in the structure of the team. A lot of new riders have come in, like Gianni [Moscon].We’ve got high-level riders here and that makes us one of the strongest teams. It’s a good atmosphere and we’re focused on working hard. For me, it’s a new challenge to come back and give the best of myself."
López argued that was “still the same person” and didn’t feel any different to when he left last winter, but did indicate that he had been shaped by his time at Movistar.
Having signed a non-disclosure agreement concerning the why’s and wherefores of his Vuelta exit, and having already criticised Movistar management in the Colombian media, he remained vague on what remains a controversial and mysterious fallout.
“Sometimes you have to makes changes. It might work out well, it might not. Things happened like they did and, in the end, it all serves as experience, something to hold onto," he said.
López preferred instead to look ahead and confirmed that he will target the Giro d’Italia in 2022.
For someone who plummeted off the Tour de France podium in a penultimate-day time trial two years ago, it is little surprise that he would favour the 2022 Giro’s extremely low distance against the clock, especially when the 2022 Tour features a chaotic opening week of wind and cobblestones.
“The route for both the Giro and the Tour caught my eye but I’m going to focus solely on the Giro and then we’ll see,” López said. “At this point I don’t know if I’ll be doing the Tour or not. I’m going to put everything into being good at the Giro.”
As for his ambitions next May, he veered from the standard script of pre-season interviews and did not shy away from setting the bar high. He finished third in 2018 - as he did at the Vuelta later that year - and he set the podium as a ‘minimum’ requirement.
With the Vuelta exit, López’s Grand Tour record now stands at three consecutive DNFs, following a crash-ridden Tour de France earlier last year - which he accused Movistar management of forcing him to abandon after stage 18 - and an opening-day crash at the late-season 2020 Giro.
However, the 27-year-old underlined his previous track record, with those Giro and Vuelta podiums coming in a run of six top-seven finishes.
“I think that it’s now the time to think about going for something big,” López said.
“I’ve very been close in the past, including in the Vuelta this year when I was on the podium [before his exit]. I’m going in with high hopes, a lot of motivation, especially being in a ’new’ team.
"We can dream about being able to achieve something big. I’ve been very close before and can think about going for a stage and, as a minimum, finishing in the top positions, like the podium."
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